From Germany to South Africa: The journey begins

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Do you speak African? Well, neither do the more than one billion people living in Africa, where about 2,000 different languages are spoken, none of which is called “African.” Too often, people think of Africa as if it was a single country, defined by disease, poverty, hopelessness, and corruption. This tiring image is at best misleading, and has little to do with reality. In fact, Africa is all but monolithic, and arguably the most diverse continent of all. Africa is home to 15 percent of the world’s population and an incredibly large number of ethnicities and cultures, the second largest continent in terms of both area and population, and consists of at least 54 countries. Three of the ten economies forecasted to be the fastest-growing in 2016 by the Economist Intelligence Unit are located in Africa, and 25 Nobel Laureates were born there.

In 2011, I rode my motorcycle from my hometown of Adelmannsfelden in Southwest Germany to Cape Town in South Africa. I was accompanied by my wife, who is from Bangladesh, and two friends from Germany. We left Adelmannsfelden in May, and we reached Cape Town in August. We covered approximately 13,000 kilometers, crossing through twelve countries: Germany, Austria, Italy, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, and South Africa. In a series of articles, of which this is the first part, I will tell you a little about our adventures along the way, and hopefully give you a glimpse of the history, wealth, and beauty of Africa.

We started our journey in Adelmannsfelden, a quiet Swabian town of less than 2,000 people, in the early morning of the 10th of May. After crossing the Austrian Alps, we reached the port of Venice in Italy in the late evening of the same day. We had to get up early the next day, and spent the little time we had to sleep on the sidewalk. That was anything but comfortable, but better than no sleep at all. In the morning, we headed straight to the ferry that would bring us and our motorcycles to Alexandria. The journey across the Mediterranean Sea was rather uneventful and took four days and three nights.


Alexandria was founded in 331 BC by Alexander the Great, and today is the second-largest city in Egypt. The Great Library, one of the largest and most important libraries in history, was located in Alexandria, as well as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, which stood for more than 1,500 years until a series of earthquakes reduced it to rubble in the 13th century. Eager to start our Africa adventure, we spent only one night in Alexandria, and hence did not have much time to explore the city. One thing we did get to see is the famous Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi Mosque, which is dedicated to the 13th  century Sufi saint Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi, who was originally from Murcia in Muslim Spain. It is located in Anfoushi, one of the oldest neighborhoods of Alexandria, and contains the saint’s tomb. We also got a chance to have our first Egyptian meal at one of Egypt’s most famous eateries. Mohamed Ahmed’s restaurant, located just about 200 meters from the almost 700-year-old Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue, is the Mecca of fūl and falafel in Alexandria, which you would never guess from its entirely unremarkable appearance.

From Alexandria, we rode on a desert highway along the western margin of the Nile Delta to Giza, the city of pyramids, where our journey will resume next time.

Part 1: From Germany to South Africa: The journey begins
Part 2: A millennium of Islamic scholarship, and a revolution yet to be completed
Part 3: Stories of a time long gone, and Egyptian khichuri
Part 4: An oasis of hospitality in the searing heat of the Nubian Desert
Part 5: The Simien Mountains, and the first hijra in Islam
Part 6: Stranded in the Kenyan desert, and a visit to the land of the Maasai
Part 7: “Welcome to Africa!”
Part 8: Victoria Falls, and free-roaming lions in Botswana
Part 9: South Africa: The Rainbow Nation
Summary: My Germany to South Africa Motorcycle Expedition 2011